Thursday, December 12, 2019

Listen Up! Happy New Year From LMC Board President Mike Mornson

A message from League Board President Mike Mornson:

Listening is one of my goals for the League Board of Directors during my term as president. Why? Bill Nye said it best: “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”

The League just finished holding eight regional meetings. We started this journey in September in Thief River Falls and ended in November in Minnetonka (a suburb of Hopkins!). We met with over 200 city officials across the state. We introduced ourselves, and then it was time to listen to what attendees had to say.

Listening to mayors and council members was by far the highlight of this year’s regional meetings for me. I was stunned by how much you all care about your communities, how much you love your communities, and some of the challenging “day jobs” you do besides holding office.

In addition, the energy level and the amount of volunteering that city officials are doing every day is amazing. If asked why you take on so much, the common response is, “If we don’t do it, who will?”

Welcome, newly elected officials

In preparation for 2020 the League is gearing up for the Elected Leaders Institute programs in January and February. I’m looking forward to meeting with this year’s class of newly elected officials. That’s where we as a member organization can really make a big impact. It’s an opportunity to let these new officeholders know, “Hey, you’re not alone!” The League and other city officials can help you out.

I’m also looking forward to the Legislative Conference in March. So much work goes into the policy development process each summer, and the Legislative Conference and meeting with our state legislators is a chance to see that process come full circle.

These events are just a couple of the ways you can get involved with the LMC, learn from others, and network.

As 2019 draws to a close, I would like to thank all of you for your service to your cities, in all its forms, and give a special shout out to the 19 board members for their extra service providing expertise and time to the LMC organization.

I hope in 2020 that you stay involved, share your stories, and communicate effectively by  introducing yourself — and then being a great listener.

Season’s greetings and happy 2020.

Mike Mornson
LMC Board President
City Manager of Hopkins

Season's greetings and happy new year from the League Board of Directors.

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Eric Haugen

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Southwest MN Cities Complete First Year of New Race Equity Cohort

 By Rachel Walker, LMC policy analysis manager 

 City officials from several southwestern Minnesota cities (and Shakopee!) came together over the last year to commit to advancing race equity in their communities.

They gathered once a quarter in person at the Redwood Falls Community Center, and participated in regular calls and webinars in between meetings.

The high school students who frequent the Community Center only thought of the group as the people who gave them leftover donuts, but these city officials were working on so much more!

The League has partnered with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) since 2016 to support cohort programs of city officials learning about race equity and developing race equity action plans.

Very much aware that the GARE model is best suited to larger jurisdictions, the League put out the call to smaller cities in the southwestern portion of the state to join in a modified version of the program. The goal was to supplement quarterly in-person gatherings with online discussions in order to lessen the demand for time away from the office.

Marshall, Pipestone, Monticello, Luverne, Fairmont, Willmar, and Shakopee sent teams. Since the participating communities had smaller staff sizes and might find it difficult to designate someone who could be trained to lead employee workshops, League staff also offered to lead an introduction to race equity workshop for city employees as part of the cohort program. 

Over the year-long program, Gordon Goodwin of GARE lead the group through interactive sessions on normalizing conversations about race, exploring the history of race in a given community, setting goals around race equity, and spelling out action plans designed to build racial equity. The sessions were casual and centered on team-to-team sharing of experiences, questions and insights. While the content was similar to the previous cohorts that LMC and GARE co-hosted, many of the conversations centered on what it was like to do this work in a small community. Several participants pointed out that they felt called to do this work because they interact so closely with residents in their communities — seeing each other at ball games and at the grocery store, for example. 

Some of the things that these cities are looking at in their race equity action plans include athletic field use policies, housing ordinances, and overall strategic planning. The team members have been added to the network of city officials who convene quarterly at LMC to share their race equity work with each other. 

Congratulations to this cohort for your work this year. We can’t wait to see what lies ahead for your communities as you work toward eliminating racial inequity in city operations!

Learn more about the League’s race equity initiative

Monday, October 14, 2019

Tips Not Tricks for National Cybersecurity Awareness

A post from Chief Information Officer Mel Reeder:

The month of October is more than just the gateway into our winter months. It is also National Cybersecurity Awareness Month! NCSAM, for short, is held every October. It’s a collaborative effort between government, academia, and industry to ensure all Americans have the resources they need to stay safe and secure online.

This year’s theme is “Own IT. Secure IT. Protect IT.” Everyone plays a role in online safety and should take proactive steps to enhance cybersecurity at home and in the workplace.
To get the word out in your city, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I know what you’re thinking: it’s just “one more thing.” But with little effort, your city can get results. All of us want to avoid that “one wrong click” that erases days of hard work. In this post I am going to share some of my favorite go-to resources that I use to celebrate the “holiday” with my colleagues at the League of Minnesota Cities.

1.    Safety starts at home

I like to take the approach that cybersecurity isn’t just about being safe at work. We all have lives outside the workplace and, truth be told, being safe online is something to practice everywhere. I like to provide tips that apply to family as well as work. For example, the Center for Internet Security sponsors a calendar contest where kids can submit their artwork about cybersecurity. By posting the calendar, you will trigger conversation and create awareness every month of the year. Plus, it’s a useful calendar! It’s helpful to see what a K-12 child thinks is scary on the internet and it’s a good conversation starter in your family as well as workplace  print out a couple months and give it a try! Here’s the 2019 calendar:

2.    Safety in sight

We have two elevators at the League. This is where I have a captive audience for at least 30 seconds. Where do you have a captive audience for a few seconds? Perhaps a waiting area or popular entrance? There are some great posters that can be printed and used as a reminder for being safe and secure online. This year I found so many I couldn’t decide  I’ll be rotating posters in our elevators throughout the month of October. The Department of Homeland Security created a toolkit that includes a great selection of posters:

3.    Safety for the win

Need other ideas? How about cyber trivia? I've got you covered. Here is a seven-question quiz from the National Institute of Standards and Technology:

Happy NCSAM and let’s stay safe out there!

Mel Reeder can be reached at

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Mounds View Police Department Makes Community Outreach a Priority

This is the second in a series of City Spot blog posts dedicated to stories of cities that are solving problems by putting ideas into action. You can read more Ideas in Action in Minnesota Cities magazine.

The City of Mounds View is home to a diverse population whose roots include the east and west
coasts of Africa, the Pacific Rim, and Eastern Europe. With an array of cultures and lifestyles converging, the city — its Police Department in particular — has been intentional in engaging its people.
Police have found the portable climbing wall to
be a great tool to connect with young people

When Police Chief Nate Harder began serving Mounds View four years ago, he brought visions of community outreach with him. Emphasizing relationships and common ground, Harder, the Police Department, and the city have been working extensively to create a welcoming atmosphere for all residents through programs and events.

The Police Department’s long list of community outreach efforts offer opportunities for all residents. “Equity is a big deal in this community,” says Harder. “We want to target every group we have in the City of Mounds View because we want to build relationships.”

Using resources
Establishing positive police and community relations took a considerable amount of creativity and dedication. The city’s financial situation was tight with budget increases limited to 2% per year, plus inflation. The Police Department developed many partnerships and even started a nonprofit organization run by interested residents to generate resources for community outreach efforts.

The nonprofit organization, The Mounds View Police Foundation, plays an important role in supporting the Police Department’s efforts. Volunteers give time and talent and help secure grant funding. The Police Department also partners with several community groups, organizations, and businesses for many of their numerous engagement efforts.

Variety of programming
The Mounds View Police Department has programs and events for every type of resident. To engage youth, the Police Department holds Kids N Cops Hockey tournaments, a bike rodeo with a local preschool, and hunter safety courses to name a few.

For residents of culturally diverse backgrounds, the Police Department participates in Ghanafest which celebrates residents from across the Twin Cities with Ghana heritage. They also host New Americans Academy to give residents new to the U.S. and the community information on state and federal laws and how to interact with law enforcement. Harder says the goal of the New Americans Academy is “to let [new residents] know who we are and what we can do for them.”

Ghanafest celebrates residents with Ghana heritage.
The Police Department also has many programs designed to bring the entire community together. These include Coffee With a Cop, Cones With a Cop, National Night Out, Bowling With a Cop, CPR training, and more.

Of the things the Police Department has tried, Harder highlights the Shop With a Cop event, Father/Daughter Dance, and the portable climbing wall because of the connection they establish with youth.

“It creates a positive contact,” he says. “They now feel comfortable coming up and talking to us.”

Shop With a Cop is an annual event where officers take local, at-risk children shopping to purchase holiday gifts for their families. Each child receives $100 for gifts, then spends the day at a holiday party with the officers wrapping gifts, listening to holiday music, and sipping hot chocolate.

Last Valentine’s Day was the first Father/Daughter Dance hosted by the Police Department. The goal was to give young girls a “first date” experience with fathers, grandfathers, uncles, or other special people in their lives. The event featured a dinner, music, dancing, and other activities for girls and their dates.

The Police Department’s mobile climbing wall has also been a very effective tool for reaching young people. Harder recalls a time when the Police Department brought the climbing wall to an event with many children from Cambodia in attendance.

At first, the children were so scared of the officers they were upset and crying, but they soon warmed up when given the chance to play, he says. Within 10 minutes, the children were smiling and laughing as they scaled the wall.

And the department recently added another fun item—a portable zip line! Much like the climbing wall, Harder says he expects the zip line to help them make more community connections.

Learning process
In connecting with a diverse community, Harder says he and his officers learned to navigate cultural differences brought to light through some programs and events.

With Ghanafest and New Americans Academy, Harder says he learned the concept of time is different across cultures. For example, one program was scheduled for 11 a.m. but attendees began to arrive at about 1 p.m.

At first, he thought no one was interested in coming to these cultural programs, but when he noticed people were coming later than expected, he began to anticipate a difference in timing.

Valuable takeaways
Police officers play floor hockey with community kids.

City Administrator Nyle Zikmund says, in addition to official programming, some efforts are meant to engage the community in a casual way without a formal structure.

“Some of these things are very subtle; they’re out there just having fun,” Zikmund says. The goal of outreach efforts is the same, however: to develop relationships between police and community and “break those barriers down,” he says.

Harder says the impact of the relationships he and his officers create goes far beyond their work. “This is good for us as human beings,” says Harder. “We see people on their worst days, and this gives us a chance to be with them on their best days.”

Other cities should give it a try
Harder encourages other cities interested in increasing their outreach efforts to go for it. “Don’t be afraid to try something,” he says. Even if it doesn’t turn out the first time, “there’s always a better way to do something.”

The Mounds View Police Department managed to create these opportunities with limited resources, thanks to local partners, volunteers, and a receptive community. Other cities can generate engagement in their communities too, regardless of resources.

“You don’t need a budget,” Harder says. “You just need passion.”

Written by former LMC Intern McKayla Collins.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Now Available: Sep-Oct Issue of Minnesota Cities Magazine

The winners of the LMC 2019 C.C. Ludwig and James F. Miller Leadership awards are St. Anthony Village Mayor Jerry Faust and St. Michael City Administrator Steve Bot. Find out what makes these leaders special in the latest Minnesota Cities magazine cover story.

The September-October issue of the magazine hit the streets last week. In addition to profiles of the LMC award winners, you’ll also find important information on railroad hazmat training and financial management planning.

More highlights:
  • Afton’s Downtown Village Improvement Project. Read Ideas in Action to find out how Afton got flooding under control and made many other upgrades to its historic downtown. The project was a 2019 City of Excellence Award winner.
  • Website photos and copyright laws. In Letter of the Law, you’ll learn how to stay on the right side of the law when it comes to using photos on your website.
  • Main street revitalization efforts in Bird Island. This city of just over 1,000 residents recently joined the Main Street Minnesota program to help them pump up their downtown businesses and encourage residents to shop local. Read all about it in Focus on Small Cities.
Bonus: This issue also includes the League’s 2018-2019 Annual Report. Read highlights of the last year, see a financial overview, and get a glimpse into our plans for the future!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Do the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Graders You Know Have the Write Stuff?

The League of Minnesota Cities’ annual Mayor for a Day Essay Contest is now open! Students who will be in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades during the 2019-2020 school year can enter by answering this question:
Cities provide a variety of services and programs that make our lives better, including parks & rec, street maintenance, water and sewer, libraries, police, fire, and more! If you were mayor for a day, what would you do to make one of the services that your city provides even better?

Students (ahem—and parents and teachers!) can download the essay form here. Handwritten responses must be mailed to us by Oct. 14, 2019.

The sky’s the limit for ideas!

Among last year’s winning essays, one student wanted to improve his city’s police department by encouraging officers to talk with kids more often. Another student focused on parks and rec, suggesting that her city add a community center and some after-school programs. The final winning essayist focused on improving her city’s streets and sidewalks, and hosting some events where residents could meet each other.

Three winners will be chosen—each winner will receive $100 and have their essay published in Minnesota Cities magazine.

So please share this with the kids you know … we can’t wait to read what they’d do to improve their cities!

Monday, August 12, 2019

My City Superpower Returns! (To the 2019 Minnesota State Fair)

Vision. Heart. Interpretation. Action.

These are just a few of the "superpowers" that drive the work that happens in cities every day.

But which one is yours?

Stop by the League's booth in the Education Building at the State Fair Aug. 22-Sept. 2 to take the "Discover Your City Superpower!" Quiz and find out. We'll be there to help fairgoers have fun and to see which city careers could help them do good in their own communitiesno cape required!

Last year, over 5,000 people stopped by the booth, and we're excited to meet 5,000 more.

To help share our message on behalf of cities, also highlights over a dozen city officials sharing what they love about their work. If you can't make it to the fairgrounds, is the next best thing, and will be the quiz headquarters once the fair disappears into the night.

The 2019 Minnesota State Fair is Aug. 22-Sept. 2. We'll see you in the Education Building!